If you’ve ever been excited to look at an apartment advertised as “newly renovated” — but when you showed up, discovered the only thing that qualified as a “renovation” was new carpeting — you know that some landlords may fudge the truth to entice renters.
It’s often easy to spot these issues, but what if those little white lies are more subtle, such as a landlord who “rounds up” the square footage and increases the price to match? If you’re not careful, you could end up paying more per square foot than you should in the current rental market — and that can cost you. Here are some other ways less-than-scrupulous landlords sometimes try to stretch the truth.
1. They imply pictures never lie
You would think that viewing photographs of the property online lets you know exactly what you’re getting. But that’s not always the case.
“The old phrase ‘A picture never lies’ was said long before the invention of Photoshop and fisheye lenses,” says Lucas Hall, chief “landlordologist” at Cozy.co. “An inexpensive fisheye lens can visually add 100 square feet to a room,” he says. And that can be a big disappointment when you see the property in person.
While some landlords probably chalk this deception up to marketing, reputable landlords consider this false advertising and tend to use wide-angle lenses that don’t distort the space.
2. They tell big fish stories
Fishermen circa 1800 became infamous for exaggerating the size of their catch. And some unscrupulous landlords follow that tradition.
“Misleading advertising is definitely an issue that hits our radar,” says Joel Cohn, legislative director for the (Washington) DC Office of the Tenant Advocate.
The reason? Cohn explains that the District of Columbia is a very transient area, “and people are renting sight unseen.”
His advice? Don’t ever rent sight unseen, “and don’t sign that online document with an e-signature.” You don’t want to commit yourself to a lease before you actually see the property — or it’s been seen by someone you trust. “If you can’t see the place first, have a friend or acquaintance check it out.”
And if you do find you were duped? Cohn suggests looking up local tenant rights laws. There, you should learn what your rights are in your jurisdiction.
3. They break promises
Don’t make promises you can’t keep. That concept is so basic, it almost sounds like a lesson from your kindergarten teacher. But unscrupulous landlords often do just that, typically about repairs and security, says Ron Leshnower, real estate attorney and president of Fair Housing Helper.
Regarding security, it’s unacceptable for a landlord to tell you the place is secure when it really isn’t. What if a thief broke in because the window lock was broken? Or what if the last tenant just let himself in because he kept the key and the landlord didn’t change the locks? Not good! But at least you’ll probably have some recourse.
“If a landlord makes a promise about security but doesn’t live up to it, it’s more likely the landlord could be liable for any resulting harm,” says Leshnower.
And then there are repairs. Landlords may make promises they don’t intend to keep — and it’s not all that uncommon. You’ll have a better chance of getting your landlord to make promised repairs if you get it in writing. “This avoids the frustrating and all-too-common situation in which it’s a tenant’s word against a landlord’s,” says Leshnower.
If you note that repairs or added security are needed before you move in, “add language to your lease about the promised repair or security feature along with a specific time frame for completion,” says Leshnower.
Oh, and about that square-footage issue. “Most of the time, the public property-tax records include the square footage of the property/unit (minus the basement),” says Lucas Hall. So check your county’s online database before you sign.